The face of coal: Joe Craft to speak on culture, importance of resource in Kentucky

By Laura Clark

A coal-less Kentucky is an image Joseph W. Craft III cannot picture, especially since he believes coal is the largest-growing fuel in the world.

“I’m basically just a business man, but I see the tremendous value of coal not only for the state of Kentucky, but for the world,” Craft said.

“I can’t imagine what the state of Kentucky would be without it.”

Wildcat Coal

Craft, the president, CEO and director of Alliance Resource Partners, L.P., based in Tulsa, Okla., recently headed a $7 million donation to support the “Replace Wildcat Lodge Student Housing” project, which included renaming the current Joe B. Hall Wildcat Lodge to include “coal” in its name.

Craft, who provided the new name, formed a group of donors called the Difference Makers to assist in contributing to the gift for UK Athletics.

On Oct. 27, the UK Board of Trustees approved the new name and accepted the $7 million gift for the construction of the new residence hall.

Students and community members protested immediately after the vote was made, which caused the board to call a recess and security to escort the audience out of the board room.

Danny Cotton, an English senior and chair of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, attended the meeting and disagreed with the vote.

“The fact that they named it after an industry unnecessarily politicizes the basketball team,” Cotton said.

Early years

Craft was born in 1950 in Hazard, Ky. Growing up, Craft said the coal industry was in a “down period.” However, when former President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a “War on Poverty,” he began noticing changes.

“To see the transformation of an area where there was no potential for jobs — then there was all of the sudden opportunity for jobs,” Craft said. “It was quite a contrast to see the benefits of the coal industry coming back to life.”

After graduating high school in 1968, Craft attended UK and majored in accounting. Craft spent a year at a Certified Public Accounting firm after graduation, then returned to UK to attend law school. Little did he know he would soon be making a decision that would change his career.

In the 1970s, the U.S. became victim to an energy crisis, going from a “low energy economy to a high energy economy,” Craft said. He said the energy policy was refocused on coal, which led to employment opportunities for Kentuckians, especially in the eastern part of the state.

“I was faced to decide whether I wanted to proceed in business or as a tax attorney,” Craft said. “But I was persuaded — I figured I’d be better off selling my ideas instead of selling my time. I took the risk and learned the coal business.”

Almost immediately, since there were more jobs than there were employees, Craft took on a large amount of responsibility at the first mining company that hired him, which he said gave him experience to take on more as coal continued to grow.

Craft moved to Tulsa, and in 1986 became president of MAPCO Coal Inc., which held mining complexes in Kentucky, Illinois and Maryland. Craft had previously been that company’s general counsel and chief financial officer, making him the youngest to hold those positions of a Fortune 500 company at the time.

In 1996, in response to MAPCO’s decision to go out of business, Craft led a buyout which changed the company’s name to Alliance Coal Company. After three years of being private, Craft sold half of the company to be publicly-traded and Alliance Resource Partners, L.P., the fifth largest eastern U.S. coal producer, was formed.


Not including the $7 million pledged for the new Wildcat Coal Lodge, Craft has donated $880,000 in 2009 alone. The recent gift for the lodge is the largest private gift in UK Athletics history, and is still pending approval from the state organizations Capital Oversight and the Council of Postsecondary Education.

“Joe Craft loves his Kentucky roots and his university,” said UK President Lee Todd in a statement to the Kernel. “He is a loyal UK alumnus, and we greatly appreciate his support and generous contributions to university student scholarships, academic programs and campus facilities.”

Craft said the largest benefit of athletics is education, not only in youth but in “all walks of life.” Craft said the UK basketball program should set high standards to enthuse and help youth reach their goals.

“I’m a strong believer in athletics,” Craft said. “Some people took the very narrow view of, ‘Why would you give such a large gift to only nine or 10 people?’ But I personally believe that gift touches millions of people.

“Look at the culture of the (UK basketball) program. (It is) more than just a sport for nine guys, it’s a culture.”

UK Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart said Craft provides the resources for UK to set appropriately high standards.

“Our coaches and student-athletes strive to achieve high levels of success and bring pride to the Commonwealth,” Barnhart said in a statement to the Kernel. “It is only through the generosity of those who love the Kentucky Wildcats that the resources needed to attain those goals are possible.

“Joe Craft has been a vital part of the continued growth of UK Athletics, and we are extremely grateful for his support and financial contributions.”

A key contributor

Craft decided to include “coal” in the new lodge’s name so UK and visitors to campus could “pay tribute as well as have that display to provide education on the many advances of coal, technology and education opportunities.” Craft said the display of “coal” will attract and teach visitors its positive contributions in the state and on campus.

Cotton, however, said “coal” will do the opposite.

“Particularly right now, when we’re moving away from coal, when coal is destroying the environment in Eastern Kentucky … It’s just not good policy for UK to be doing that,” Cotton said.

Craft will be speaking at Thursday’s “Forum on Coal in Kentucky” to provide knowledge of coal to the discussion. He said more publicity is needed to communicate “an education for people to see the positive things” of coal, and to improve the quality of life.

“(Coal is) a key contributor to the wealth of a nation,” Craft said. “Electricity is an outlet to improve life.”

Those opposed to coal and those for coal should have the same goals for the country, Craft said. The “animosity” that followed the “Wildcat Coal Lodge” decision was unnecessary, he said.

“All Kentuckians and Americans should respect the coal miners for what they do,” Craft said. “They’ve been a pillar in providing for this country … they’ve driven the wealth this country has today.”

The Wildcat Coal Lodge will begin construction in the summer of 2010 and is scheduled for completion in the summer of 2011, according to a UK Athletics release. Craft and his Difference Makers, however, have already brought “coal” to the center of attention on campus, representing the face of the highly debated, heavily scrutinized black rock.

“I’m proud of that,” Craft said of being considered the face of coal. “Coal is part of Kentucky’s heritage. It’s still a significant part of the economical engine for our country.”


Joe Craft’s UK donations:

– $12, 500 — Sigma Alpha Epsilon House Construction Fund between Dec. 29, 1995 and Aug. 6, 1997

– $1,000 — Hazard C C Endowment Challenge on March 27, 1991

– $500 — Mineral Law Center Quasi Endowment on Dec. 31, 1990

– $3,150 — College of Law Restricted Fund between Nov. 14, 1985 and Oct. 28, 2008

– $23,045 — K-Fund between Nov. 26, 1984 and March 8, 2006

– $175,000 — Mining Engineering Development Fund on Dec. 12, 2006

– $45,000 — Men’s Basketball Boosters Fund between Aug. 7, 2008 and Sept. 17, 2009

– $2,500 — Wildcat Society Fund on May 1, 2008

– $3,248,786 — Capital Project Gifts Fund between Nov. 9, 2005 and Oct. 26, 2009

– $23,000 — Hoover Dawahare Fund for Rural Health on June 10, 2005

– $25,000 — Delta Delta Delta Gift Fund on Nov. 26, 2008

– $7,000 — DOUG-SAE Scholarship Fund between July 20, 2006 and May 7, 2009

– $600 — Ashland Oil Professorships of Law between Dec. 29, 1989 and Dec. 29, 1995

– $100 — College of Law Class of ’72 Scholarship Fund on Dec. 6, 1994

– $500 — Bill Keightley (Mr. Wildcat) Basketball Managers Scholarship Fund on April 17, 2008